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Full text of "The Gay Genius"

ROMANCE WITH CHAOYUN                   315

Chaoyua was confronted with a religious dilemma. She had become
a Buddhist, under the tutorship of Bikkuni (Sister) Ichung. On this
question of sex, Buddhism is specific. Buddhist metaphysics assumes
quite correctly that the world we perceive by the senses is all illusion,
and that the ultimate reality is God, or the world soul. Our conscious-
ness is encrusted with habits of perception, and salvation comes from
an effort of understanding to break away from these perceptual habits
and to escape the illusions of the sensory world. Su Tungpo and
Chaoyun, who may be properly regarded as his wife now, were both
Buddhist believers, in spite of what Confucian critics may say.
Together they had built the fish sanctuary in the lake, and according
to Su Tungpo's testimony she liked to practise charity, which was
taught by Buddhism.

ButSu Tungpo was called on to practise even greater severity. In the
latter part of 1095 he suffered acutely from piles and lost a great deal of
blood. He was his own doctor. He had not only read all the authorities
on Chinese medicine, but frequently wrote notes on distinguishing
varieties of plants often confused by others. His theory about piles was
that there was a worm inside which had been gnawing away at his
body, and his natural remedy was to "starve out the guest by starving
the host himself'*. He denied himself all ordinary foods, including rice,
and ate only unsalted wheat cakes and Indian bread. After doing this
for several months, he recovered temporarily.

Meanwhile he was getting more sceptical of his success in forming
the pill of immortality. He found that he was too easily involved
emotionally to become an immortal. He wrote his brother about the
proper way for preserving cinnabar, and remarked that Tseyu had a
more tranquil disposition and was therefore more likely to succeed. In
a poem about the Shanhaiching, an ancient work telling of fabulous
creatures in remote countries, he said: "The quest for the elixir has
failed. How can I hope to live in those remote regions?" Even if the
pill was formed, of what use would it be? It was enough to control
the vital liquids by practising deep breathing, and this he was already
doing.

He was still uncertain of his future. Upon his first arrival he had
mentioned that he was ready to make Huichow his home. On the
other hand, he could never tell where he might be sent next. If he were
to settle permanently at Huichow, he would build a house there and
send for his children's families from Ishing. In September of 1095
there was a sacrifice to the ancestors of the emperor, and according to
custom a general amnesty was granted on such an occasion. Quite late
that year he learned that all the Yuanyu officials had been excluded
from this benefit. The news had at least the value of a sedative because